There is No Shame in Stealing from the Best
I remember taking my son into a local music store called “B.J.’s Guitar Island” here in Indy, so my son could take guitar lessons. After one of his lessons, an older gentleman walked in and started talking to the owner. He picked up an inexpensive electric guitar and started to make it wail beautifully. The older guy laid out guitar lick on top of guitar lick. My son and I stood by mesmerized. He looked up at my son and said “I can tell you really love music… I can see it in your eyes.” He continued, “Son, there’s nothing new in music. There are just eight notes and there only so many ways you can put them together. Listen to all kinds of music from the best, even if you don’t necessarily like it. It will make you a better musician and don’t be afraid to steal from the best.” The man we saw and spoke to that day was Rock-A-Billy Legend, Ronnie Haig. My son followed his advice. A decade later my son graduated from college with a degree in Recording Arts from Butler University. My son and a friend from school wrote, created, performed and produced their own album which is now on iTunes.
The same principle applies to attorneys. When I got out of law school, I clerked for a federal judge and had the chance to learn from the best and worse of the bar. I saw Roy Black out of Miami defend Ron Malinowski in a federal drug kingpin case on the heels of a successful defense by Black of a Miami police officer charged with the murder of a black teenager. The case made national headlines. Roy Black is famous for number of cases including his successful defense of William Kennedy Smith in a rape case. He had a warm, humble and professorial manner. While his defense was ultimately unsuccessful, I remember that his closing argument was masterful. As Roy Black began, he approached the jury and warmly greeted them, “Good morning ladies and gentlemen.” The jury immediately answered back in unison like they were school kids, “Good morning, Mr. Black.” The Oscar Awards had just happened and Black attacked the government’s “flipped” witnesses by awarding them and the government DEA agents various Oscars for their “performance.” It was a fantastic closing in a very difficult case. The court reporter had tears streaming down his face as he strained to maintain his composure in an effort to keep from laughing. He later transcribed the closing argument even though it was unnecessary and was kind enough to give me a copy. I still have the transcript and have read though it a number of times.
There are websites, such as Famous Trials (http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/ftrials.htm), which have a treasure trove of information from historic legal battles. There are likewise books such as “The Devil’s Advocates: Greatest Closing Arguments in Criminal Law” and “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury” by Michael S. Lief that contain abridged transcripts of famous closings.
So learn and steal from the best! You will be better trial attorney for it.